1. Readjusting

    Hm, I haven’t been posting much, have I?

    At the end of my spring semester, I was incredibly busy. 140cuse had just wrapped up, I was gearing up to head to Boston for the summer, I had finals to finish, my sister was graduating. It was a whirlwind time, and I had to prioritize some things in order to survive, so understandably, my blog-on-the-side fell off the radar for a bit. The thing was, that tempest really didn’t settle until halfway through the summer.

    My internship took up most of my time through June and into July, mainly due to some wifi issues at the office that had me taking work home. At some point, I remembered Counter Talk, and this Tumblr, and thought about getting back to writing. After all, I have a bit of a backlog of posts that I owe people. People who took the time to talk with me, whose conversations were exactly the point of starting this blog in the first place. And those posts will get written. But for now, my cogs are spinning, polishing off a new and different take on what I started last year. Because here’s the long and short of it: Counter Talk is exhausting.

    Don’t get me wrong, Counter Talk was amazing for me, to get to meet so many passionate minds, share what I love about coffee, and get them talking about what drives their creativity. But I didn’t give myself a break. Whenever I was running low on material to write about, I was actively seeking a new person to meet with. Then I had the speaking circuit for 140, as well as my academics. If I were working with coffee full time, Counter Talk would be much more schedule and resource feasible, but as a student, it became too much. The break I allowed myself over the summer showed me that, frankly, I didn’t exactly miss it. Not as originally designed, anyway.

    I loved meeting with everybody, but one of the main premises that got me started was the idea that I would be able to plant some seeds about coffee in other peoples’ minds. I think that worked, to a certain extent, but as I developed my game plan more, I found that I was talking about coffee less and less. In order to write about the other person, I had to switch off coffee-mode, and switch on journalist-mode. I’m a terrible journalist though. I can ask questions, and I can write down responses and format them for a blog post, but I have no passion for it. It’s somebody else’s craft. I lost sight of my own passion, mainly to make my writing more interesting to a wider audience. And I think that’s the wrong way to approach this space.

    I want to start writing about coffee more, and I want to be a bridge between consumers and professionals in the specialty coffee industry. I think I have a unique perspective, one that plays both sides of that line - while I’m not a full-on professional in coffee, I am not a typical consumer either. I rub elbows with both groups, and understand their viewpoints, but I don’t share many of the roadblocks to having an efficient dialogue. At least, that’s how I currently see it, and that’s my inspiration to pivot on my heel and pursue a different sort of direction.

    In the coming weeks, I’ll be wrapping up the last set of Counter Talk interviews: Xelinda Yancy, Chris Becker, ZPM Espresso, Baked Magazine, and Rounded Development. From then on, I’ll be focusing more on weekly coffee writing, covering all sorts of topics from machines to brew methods, global news, and so on. Expect some more editorial writing as well, because I’ve got opinions too, damnit!

    But here’s the cool part, especially if you’re a Syracuse local; I’ll still be meeting with people, but this time I’ll be teaching. I want to set up a regular event with a small group of people, 4-5 seats let’s say, and take an hour to teach about coffee and answer all of your coffee-related questions. I have always enjoyed answering questions as I brew a pot of coffee for my meetings, but now I’ll be applying a structure and offering it as a service to those who want to learn something new. My hope is that this will begin to build a new community of appreciation locally, whether it’s at businesses or just at the university with a random group of strangers. $5 gets you an hour of lessons, all your questions answered, a fresh cup of coffee, and some goodies to take home, and hopefully gets you set on your path to the best coffee you’ve ever had. Because I won’t be meeting so often, and I won’t have to write about it so much, I’ll be able to put more focus into the new project, and make sure I’m providing a service people appreciate. So, we’ll see how this goes, I’d really like to make a bit of an impact in this part of Syracuse’s community.

    It’s called Beansprouts, and it’s coming to Syracuse this spring.

    Until then, catch me on Twitter @SteveRhinehart, I’m always happy to chat!

  2. In Search Of Life: Coffee Talk →

    These are some of the same points I strive to hit with Counter Talk, as well as in my talks. Coffee has always been part of communities, so taking a break from the online world to celebrate that history really isn’t a bad or scary thing. Unplug and enjoy the company of your fellows!

    nathansage:

    This morning I noted with great curiosity that Handsome Coffee Roasters of LA is conspicuously missing wireless internet. Tell this to any A-level hipster and he might kill you; hipsters of course thrive on coffee and wi-fi (and the sacrificed clothing of much poorer people, gotten in secret area…

  3. So Far, So Fine: Able’s DISK In Review

    It’s been a bit over a year since I got my first Aeropress, and a few months more than that since I got my first DISK filter. I purchased a 010 model DISK for my Bialetti moka pot, back when Coava was still the company behind the helm of the DISK and Kone filters. These days, the DISK is made by Able Brewing, a spin-off of Coava, and the DISK is a-changing with time. This brings me to the subject of this review: the new, unreleased soon-to-be-released, DISK Fine.

    Prima Coffee DISK Fine

    Image via Prima Coffee. More images to come, my last batch was awful.

    I mentioned my Aeropress history to underscore the fact that, by now, I’m quite familiar with my 010 DISK, having used it nearly every day for over a year - about 500 brews or so. That DISK iteration has the largest holes, it’s thicker, and it brews a damn fine cup of coffee. The brews are a bit body-heavy, with some sediment in the bottom of the cup, but the richness in flavor and dead simple brewing more than make up for that. When Prima Coffee let the Twitterverse volunteer to help test the DISK Fine, I knew I had to sign up, not only for the curiosity to see what Able had been cookin’, but to weigh in as a frequent and experienced DISKer. As luck would have it, I was indeed selected to be a tester!

    The first thing I did upon receiving the DISK Fine was to compare it to my beloved 010. The Fine is noticeably thinner - almost papery in comparison to the 010. It flexes, and likely bends (I don’t have the guts to try that!), quite easily, almost feeling flimsy. The holes are innumerable, and quite small, and certainly don’t appear quite as conical to the naked eye.

    The DISK, like its big ol’ brother, the Kone filter for Chemex, is made from photochemically etched stainless steel. What that means exactly is, well, a mystery to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved a shallow chemical bath and lasers. The result, in the case of either filter, is a definite precision feel, making the cost to buy in feel more worthwhile. This was the reason I first fell in love with my DISK 010 - it was obviously well-engineered, and despite not having brewed coffee with it, I knew it was a good purchase.

    The Fine threw me though, as that flimsy quality seemed distinctly not like the DISK I knew. Still, looking at the size and count of the filter holes, I guessed that it was a factor of manufacturing, a design choice I would probably understand if I were an engineer or something. Besides, this was a free test unit, complimentary to me, and not something I should be too picky about so let’s just brew some damn coffee!

    Aeropress, preheated, inverted, 18 grams of coffee, 290 grams of water, ground around medium drip. Steep for 1:15, invert, remove the plunger, add the remaining water (it doesn’t all fit the first go), plunge for about :30.

    Result? Bright, biting, crisp, sour, yuck. Not what I was expecting, but I noticed quite a few key differences. The first were the obvious drips while inverting. This new filter appeared to leak much like the stock paper filters do for the Aeropress. The plunge, too, offered far less resistance than I’m used to with the 010, which I at first attributed to obviously having the wrong grind fineness (too coarse this time). But no, even with subsequent dialed in brews, the Fine acts more like a membrane than a piece of steel, allowing liquid to pass easily through into the cup. The more I brewed, and the more I compared to the 010 filter, the more I realized the Fine performs like a paper filter. So I brewed them back to back; first a paper filter brew, then a DISK Fine brew.

    The results didn’t surprise me so much as they confirmed my assumption. I used the same recipe (below), made sure to thoroughly rinse my paper filter, and weighed and time scrupulously. The paper filter brew was what I thought it would be - balanced, sweet, clean, and only slightly tangy (the remnants of a washed Ethiopian). The Fine, however, brought out all the same notes, with the addition of a chocolate undertone that was lacking with the paper. Presumably, this is the result of fines in suspension. This was arguably more balanced than the previous, as that tang - still present - was now tamed a bit by this milky chocolate. It was honestly one of my best Aeropress brews to date. Not exactly a religious experience, but I think I have a new favorite filter.

    So how can I sum this up…The DISK Fine is like a permanent paper filter for the Aeropress, in the sense that it brews much like a paper filter does, with none of the setup time and pre-rinsing, with the added faculty of increased body and low notes. Try a finer grind and a lower dose, and stirring helps. Also, be careful when cleaning the DISK Fine, as it bends easily, and unless Able chooses a thicker material (they might, it’s been mentioned on Twitter that the thin material wasn’t exactly desirable), you run the risk of creasing it if you scrub/rub too hard.

    The Able Brewing DISK Fine should be available this summer, for about $12.50. If you Aeropress, it’s worth it!

    Brewing with the DISK Fine:

    17g coffee, ground finer than drip (moka pot)

    250g water at ~205 F

    Inverted brew

    Preheat the Aeropress with water just off the boil. Drain and add grounds.

    Add about half the water, stir once and bloom for 45 seconds. Add rest of water, steep one minute. Add filter, screw on cap, flip onto a mug, and let sit for another 15-20 seconds, before pressing within 40 seconds. Total brew time is about 2:40.


    UPDATE: Keith from Able let me know via Twitter that the retail DISK Fine will still be thin - a constraint that allows for the smaller holes. He also said there will be photos and video of the magical (probably not laser) etching process on the site. So be sure to check out Able Brewing’s page in the coming months!

  4. musings of a coffee ragamuffin.: Why I Think The Coffee Ambush Is So Important. →

    I can’t deny Jason’s work didn’t influence me when I was formulating how Counter Talk would work. I don’t exactly show up and brew for companies, but the idea of sharing for the sake of sharing really resonates with me. Jason asks for nothing in return for his brews, he simply wants to introduce a broader perspective of coffee to more people. What a fantastic dude! Currently wondering if there’s a way I can do the same sort of thing in Boston this summer….

    jasondominy:

    So, after this morning’s events (some knucklehead breaking into my rental car and stealing my two Coffee Ambush bags with my Baratza Vario-W, Clevers, scales, etc.), I’ve been thinking about just what they’ve become and where I’d like them to head. My first Coffee Ambush was for my friends at…

  5. The video of my talk at #140cuse went up today! Feel free to check it out - I don’t think I nailed the talk, but it was my best go yet. Still need to work on actually sounding interested, I think. I get nervous in front of people like this, and while I know the content of my talk, I start to overthink the details and let anxiety get to me. I think practice will help with that, for sure.

    Also, definitely check out the other 140challengers! As I mentioned in my last post, Isaac Budmen took the challenge prize - a speaking spot at 140NYC this June - but Jeff Pulver graciously offered to bring the rest of the challengers to NYC as well, and we may have small speaking spots as well. Without further ado:

    Isaac Budmen - Building Software For Social

    Sam Morrison - Backflip.me

    Unfortunately, Alyssa Henry was too busy rocking the backstage speaker interviews to give her talk at the event, so we don’t have a video to represent her talk. Rest assured, it was just as awesome as the rest of the talks!

    Finally, be sure to check out all the speaker videos up on the iSchool’s YouTube channel. It was an amazing conference, and I can’t think of a single talk that wasn’t insightful and worth attending/watching.

  6. Counter Talk at #140cuse

    Yesterday was the big day, the much anticipated 140cuse conference. With forty-five speakers, over 600 in attendance, not to mention thousands following online, the event was a huge success, and I was glad to be a part of it. You may remember David Rosen, who I met with for Counter Talk a short while ago; the guy deserves a million beers right now. The hard work put in by David and his team paid off big time, and more than a few speakers (some of which were frequent conference-goers) were sure to mention how well-put together it was.

    David and the Tech Crew backstage getting things prepped to start.

    The crowd starting to fill in. Not long after, it was standing room only.

    140challenge

    As I mentioned previously, I was a student speaker in the 140challenge, which saw me giving my talk about this very project, pitted against my fellow students and friends Isaac Budmen, Sam Morrison, and Alyssa Henry. Sadly, Alyssa opted out yesterday, being fairly busy with speaker interviews, so it was just the guys presenting. I went first, switching up my talk a bit from the previous format (video to come soon), followed by Sam - backflip included - and then Isaac. The crowd turnout  was pretty good despite being during the lunch hour, and all three of us were on our game, delivering solid presentations (the other two certainly did, I would hesitate to include myself). After we presented, the show returned to the main stage in the Schine Underground, and after a quick post-lunch talk by Eric Stoller, Anthony Rotolo asked us to join him and Jeff Pulver on the stage to announce the winner. I’m happy to announce that Isaac Budmen won the prize, with his stellar talk on using digital and social technologies to enhance your world and your learning, outside of more traditional educational means. His message resonates clearly with a wide audience, myself included; after all, I just got my summer job on the internet, never having met my employer face to face. The world is changing, it’s far more connected online, and Isaac is quick to point out the merits of that trend.

    Tim Pool showing off his front flip skills after the 140challenge talks.

    Jeff Pulver, however, really outdid himself, by not only providing Isaac with a speaking spot at 140NYC this summer, but also by offering to take the other 140challengers to the conference as well. He is an incredibly generous man, and I am humbled. There really weren’t any losers in this challenge, thanks to him.

    Counter Talk “Speed Dating”

    What kind of barista would I be if I weren’t finding a way to brew coffee at this event? I was turned down by food services at the school, so I wasn’t able to set up a table anywhere, but I brought my suitcase anyway, and held miniature Counter Talk sessions with friends and speakers. It was a phenomenal time, especially since I made sure everybody exchanged something of value for their brew. Well, I intended to anyway - I forgot to ask a few people along the way. I brewed a home-roasted Ethiopia Pulp Natural Guji, via both Kalita Wave dripper, and Aeropress with Able Brewing’s DISK Fine filter (more on that in an upcoming post). I wasn’t completely happy with this roast, but I didn’t get any complaints from others, so I think they were satisfied. Here’s who I got to brew for:

    @carolshares

    Carol is a fellow iSchool grad student, who is enrolled in my social media class. She shared a comical story from her days as a pipe fitter and welder, when a piece of slag fell down behind her protective apron and into her bra. As she struggled to pat it out, she noted that all the male fitters around were awfully eager to lend a hand. Anything to “help,” right?

    @jrwalco

    Another social media student from my class, Jessica spoke with me about her volunteerism with The Future Fund of CNY. They are a local organization, part of a non-profit, which she described as a “giving circle,” meaning they pool funding into a grant, and the membership votes on where to distribute it each year. I always like to hear about projects like this, giving back to and supporting the local communities.

    @syracusejen

    Jen paid me a rather nice compliment, saying she thought I should have won the 140challenge. Much appreciated Jen!

    @jeffpulver

    Jeff needed no exchange in my mind, he’s given me plenty of stories, a trip to New York, lots of hugs, and more, in the short time I’ve known him.

    @juliaallis

    Poor Julia, I was rather dopey and didn’t realize at first she was patiently waiting her turn in line while talking with me. Still, she exchanged her musings on riding a motorcycle, and we chatted about the stark difference between riding in a car, and being more exposed on something like a motorcycle or, in my case, a jet ski that one time. She noted that the smells were most intriguing, as they come on quite vividly and suddenly when on a bike. A forest smells far different on a motorcycle than it does as a hiker.

    @CDeBaise124

    Once again, another social media student (#Rotoloclass repped #140cuse quite well!), Chelsea got off without an exchange, but we did chat for a bit.

    @ibudmen

    Isaac won the #140challenge, so I congratulated him with a cup of coffee! Poor guy looked like he needed it by late afternoon too.

    Isaac, Chelsea, Julia hanging out, enjoying coffee and conversation. As it should be.


    @timcast

    Tim Pool, known for his citizen journalist style coverage of Occupy Wall Street, came over with Jeff Pulver for a quick cup. He told us about his family’s cafe in Chicago, which sadly fell prey to prolonged construction on the sidewalks, killing foot traffic. Tim knows a bit about coffee himself, as a result, and explained how to properly taste coffee - slurping! Doing so sprays your whole palate with coffee at once, and introduces air, allowing more complete tasting. I got a good deal of practice in slurping back at Coffee Fest during the cupping class I took. It’s hard not to suck too hard and inhale, choke and cough when you’re just starting out…

    Also cool about Tim’s family cafe: apparently they got some tips and pointers on coffee from another Chi-town institution - Intelligentsia. Very cool!

    Tim and Jeff waiting while I boil more water. Friendly guys!

    @ariel_n

    Ariel is another student, inhabitant of the #NEXIS, and founder of the up-and-coming dating site YouShouldDate.Me. She offered the story of how she grew up loving architecture, cutting out furniture and things from magazines to put in her sketchbook of drawings. Her grandmother once spotted her cutting out some furniture, and commented that it was nice she was making suggestions for the interior. Ariel corrected her and said they’re  not suggestions, that’s what the room will look like. Her grandmother disagreed, and said you can’t tell them what furniture they have to use. Over the years, her grandmother’s insights pushed her away from architecture, and the single people of the world will likely be better for it!

    Ariel speaking with Jeff Pulver.

    @EricStoller

    Eric was a blast to talk to, however briefly. He left me with his awesome, slightly dizzying business cards. These ones are keepers for sure!

    @SparksZilla

    I know nothing about Andy, but I offered him a cup during my final rounds in the room before it got closed up. Thanks for indulging me, Andy!

    Yesterday was a seriously great time, I can’t wait to do it again this summer, and next year!

  7. Counter Talk: GraFighters

    In a windowless room in downtown Syracuse, a fierce battle is about to erupt. A muscular warrior stands facing a dragon with…a unibrow? Trogdor, the infamous Burninator of HomestarRunner.com, is about to be slain by none other than Grotolo, a social media warrior – with the body of a He-Man action figure, the head of Syracuse University’s own Anthony Rotolo, and armed with Social Media. Literally. Welcome to GraFighters.

    After getting multiple recommendations to meet with the Syracuse-based game startup, I checked out some of their stuff online. It struck me that the game had a few things in common with my own team capstone from RIT, SketchBox, and I knew I had to meet with them. GraFighters is an online game where users can upload their own doodles, let a bit of code figure out the stats of the doodle, and then get started kicking butt! It’s a fun and personal way to relive the margins of your middle school math homework, pitting your sketched out warriors against those of your friends and strangers. I braved a veritable blizzard (a.k.a. just another winter day in Syracuse) to meet with Dave Chenell and chat about the game.

    The Brew

    This time, I brought along something a bit different. Rather than the usual Chemex setup, I opted for the glitz and glamor of my trusty vacuum pot. What a terrible idea. Vac pots look cool, brew some pretty tasty coffee, but man, they’re a pain to clean, even if you have a sink right next to you. I usually don’t, so I made sure Dave got the first brew, and I took the second, which was fairly clearly tainted by the remnants of the first batch. Protip: make sure you consider all the factors of a brewing device before bringing it along somewhere like this. I totally overlooked the clean up/reset part, and kinda regretted it.

    A show stopping PITA, but a PITA nonetheless. The brewer, not Dave…

    Luckily, Stumptown’s Ethiopia Yukro is a very tasty, sweet, lemony brew, that’s robust enough to take a little bit of a beating. I was still able to finish off my mug, and Dave seemed to enjoy his as well. Thank goodness for good coffee, making up for botched brews from time to time!

    The Exchange

    So, down to brass tacks. GraFighters started in the most likely place: in the notebooks of two college students during class. Dave and co-founder Eric Cleckner were doodling in class, when the challenge was issued: “I bet my guy could beat yours in a fight.” The concept eventually left the realm of paper, and went digital, as the two began to try to build a game where users could bring their doodles to life, and pit them against one another to determine a winner. Of course, given limited resources, the game struggled to make significant progress, and the duo turned to Kickstarter for funding.

    Such tasty coffee, such messy cleanup.

    With a modest goal of $20k, the hope was to get enough money to finish something playable, which would probably be built onto later. Unfortunately, the crowdfunding site didn’t pay off, and Dave and Eric were dead in the water. That is, until they were approached by a European venture capitalist, who took an interest in the project, and ended up contributing $200k, ten times the original goal. With coffers full, and a certifiable interest in the game, the two set to work - building, coding, and crafting a world in a web site. They were now located in their current space in the Syracuse Tech Garden, a small hub in the city that fosters other small tech businesses. They managed to snag an additional team member, Dave Benmen (formerly of Macromedia), through an ad on craigslist, who helped them build the heart of the site. But more on that part in a bit.

    Live on the web since September of 2011, GraFighters is a fairly simple site. Users can log in with Facebook, scan or photograph their doodle fighter of choice, and import it into the character builder. From there, they’ll give the doodle some bones, designating the torso, head, arms, legs, with bounding boxes and joints. The process is coached with visual prompts, making it easy enough to follow along, though there’s an element of goofiness to misplaced clicks, or a sub-optimal doodle. If your doodle is drawn with foreshortened limbs, or a strange perspective, or even –at this point- if it’s a quadruped, the software will have more of a silly effect on the character than a realistic bones rig. But that’s really just part of the charm; it’s a doodle for crying out loud, who cares if his arm moves oddly? Once the parts are all sorted out and labeled, Cornelius takes over.

    The Burninator himself, rigged and ready to fight.

    Cornelius is the aforementioned heart of the system. It’s an algorithm that checks out the drawing you’ve submitted, takes a good hard look, and figures out how to assign the fighting stats. Is your monster a big top-heavy brute? Cornelius will give him good strength, but his intelligence will be lacking. A wiry sneaky fellow will be agile, but not too strong, and so on. Cornelius is constantly under revision, getting tweak to make sure the playing field is level enough to be enjoyable, and the results better match the characters he judges. But again, there’s some charm to the bugs that may still be around, as Dave showed me with a bipedal hamburger character. He imported it as normal, and Cornelius buffed the strength off the chart (it was something like 274, if I recall correctly). Clearly, the burger would have been an intense opponent!

    Dave discussing upcoming features for the game. Stay tuned and keep battling!

    The Finish

    GraFighters, as it exists today, is a fun and playable work in progress. It’s populated by far more than a handful of users (especially now that CNN and Kotaku have picked up the story), so there’s plenty of opportunity to interact and battle. Rather than go too far into the dynamics of gameplay, I really think the site should speak for itself (honestly, I’m not being a lazy writer!), and you all should go check it out. Make a doodle, import it, invite your Facebook friends, and play around a bit. Make some mistakes, and just have fun with the game. Then, in the future, watch for some of the cool planned updates, like collaborative drawing, territory battles, and more social and discovery tools. The game feels really promising to me, so I’d love to see more folks taking part and getting into fights!

  8. Siphon Sunday

    There’s something about the slow pace of a Sunday that just begs for a good cup of coffee. I don’t always find the time to sit down and enjoy a good brew, but today just felt right. Part of that was inspired by a wealth of #siphonsunday tweets in my feed today, so I opted to join in the fun and brush up on my siphon skills.

    Siphon brews are a little time and attention intensive, but I embrace that. I used to make one every morning before work, taking about 20 minutes of hands-on time from boiling the water to cleaning up. It got to be a bit demanding, even for somebody who wakes up early just to brew coffee, so it fell by the wayside. I do still love a good siphon though, especially for the process.

    The brewing process is pretty cool, starting with heating up your water in the lower bowl of the vessel. Once it’s about 200 F, you add the top bowl, which will seal off the lower bowl, and cause vapor pressure to build. That pressure will soon force water up the siphon tube, and into the upper bowl. Science!

    After the pressure has forced most of the water into the upper bowl (some will always get left behind, which is good for the steam supply), I wait for the temperature to increase to somewhere around 195 F before adding my grounds. The grounds are steeped up top for a minute or so, and I stir once or twice with a bamboo paddle before finishing up.

    When you cut the heat, the lower bowl begins to lose vapor pressure, and will begin to create a vacuum as the air cools (again, science!). This sucks the coffee from the top bowl, down through the filter and the siphon tube, creating characteristic burps and gurgles at the very end of the draw down. The resulting cup is clean, rich, and often fairly sweet - much like a french press brew that has been filtered through paper. The cleanup sucks a bit though…

  9. Craft Coffee Blog: Paper in my Coffee? →

    Craft Coffee, pushing great coffee and great content. Love it!

    craftcoffee:

    Another Pro-Tip Tuesday has arrived!
    Have you ever wondered why people rinse their coffee filters and what it does to the quality of their coffee? Todays pro-tip rant is about exactly that.
    Sam Lewontin, take it away:
    “Rinsing your paper filter is one of the easiest ways to improve the…

  10. Wet Mill: Taking apart potential and process →

    wetmill:

    I like the lock & key analogy- remembering that the variety is the lock and everything else is the key, if you’re talking about character. Environment and processing unlock varietal potential, not the other way around, in my view; although this is perhaps an academic difference.

    More useful might…

  11. Coffee Fest Day 2: Part 2 (and Day 3)

    Day Two Continued

    To continue from before, I was recapping the show floor from day two. I had my favorite booths, to be sure, and there were a few that really stood out. For example, oatmeal was a big thing at the show. There were quite a few vendors with their own oatmeal products, mainly the pre-packaged variety that can be stocked and served at cafes. I was honestly impressed with the quality as well, and I talked at length with one vendor about what made their products different and tasty (I’m an oatmeal buff too).

    The unfortunate fact of the show too, was that a few of the coffee vendors, or rather, people serving coffee (not all were in the coffee business itself, but served coffee to show off their equipment and such) were actually serving anything good. I visited a few roasters whose products I would sip once then discreetly throw away. Char and ash are not descriptors I would have expected in “Our most balanced blend!” I suppose the important thing to remember is that CoffeeFest is about the whole industry, not just the specialty arena, and thus a good portion of the visitors are more interested in blender mixes and frozen pastries than they are in a green coffee that scored an 88 at origin.

    ZPM Espresso

    Haha, yeah, I kept coming back here. The cool thing was, there was almost always something interesting happening here, whether it was another blogger asking for a story, or a potential parts supplier making a business connection right in front of you. I intended to visit a few times to build on my understanding of the product and the people, for my upcoming Counter Talk post about them, and ended up sticking around just to hang out and chat.

    ZPM’s original prototype, all set up to pull shots. The working prototype is still waiting on some more internal parts.

    Nick from Astoria stopped by at one point, when the Nocturn (ZPM’s machine) prototype was hooked up with power and water, and paired with a Mazzer Super Jolly courtesy of the Astoria booth. After pulling a few disappointing shots, he hunkered down and dialed the espresso in– Batdorf and Bronson’s Dancing Goats blend – and started pulling some real tasty espresso goodness. I pulled a few as well, to sortof run the machine through its paces. It’s quite impressive for its stature and appearance; it holds temps well, has a few of the drawbacks of a small home machine (frequent boiler fills, it takes time to switch between steam and brew modes, lacks a three-way pressure relief valve, small drip tray, etc.), but it’s not the final product, and still pulls shots like a champ. I ended up playing barista for a little bit, to help out as Gleb and Igor spoke about their business to their fans. It was nice to be pulling shots on a different machine, taking notes about what I like better on my Pavoni, or what could perhaps be improved on the final product of theirs.

    Gleb prepping a shot from the v.1 prototype. Igor and Rachel talk to an attendee.

    Astoria Event

    Discover:lever is apparently an initiative by Astoria to get people to stop fearing lever machines, and give some of their products a shot. Commercial levers are nice for showpieces, and low-volume production, plus they cost nothing compared to some higher end machines and pull great shots to boot. The event Saturday night was meant to introduce professionals to that concept, with a demonstration and time to hang out at Irving Farm’s training lab in Manhattan. Free coffee, free beer, lots of cool people, and lever shots? What’s not to like!

    Astoria - discover:lever

    How awesome is that parts diagram? Yeah, I got that on a tshirt!

    I met up with ZPM at the event to conduct my Counter Talk interview, which was a great conversation that drew a few lookers-on throughout the night. I also pulled a few shots on that lovely Astoria machine, grabbed my free tshirt (an exploded parts diagram of the Astoria lever group, awesome!), had a few beers, and just hung out. I had a lot of great conversations with folks that showed up; mostly from people I’d met at the show or café crawl. I talked at length with Nick about a variety of topics, from coffee to peanut butter and food. My biggest take-away was just how open, friendly, and quite often genuine the coffee community was. I don’t necessarily see myself as one of them, as I’m an amateur in all things, but they accepted me and didn’t treat me any different than they would a coworker. It was a phenomenal time, and I was glad I stayed for the whole thing, rather than leaving after an hour or so as I’d thought I would.

    Day Three In Brief

    I haven’t got a lot to say about the final day. I slept in a bit, woke up late and grabbed some donuts from Donut Plant (holy crap, so good!) with my boarding benefactors (the friends whose couch I got to sleep on for free), then hopped a subway train to stop into the Fest one last time. I hit up my favorite booth people - Visions, PT’s, ZPM, to grab some Joe and say goodbye. PT’s made good on their offer to give me free coffee, so I walked away with a pound of Southpaw espresso (have I mentioned that these guys were awesome?), and the folks at ZPM seemed to be buzzing as always. Cole brewed up a bit of Kuma’s Burundi, a savory and tart cup, just as delicious as any other Kuma I’ve tried. After just about ten minutes at the show, I had to run off to the Port Authority terminals to wait an hour for my bus - Greyhound, she is always running smoothly, non?

    I honestly don’t know if I’ll come back next year, as I think I kindof get the gist of things, but I had a great time regardless. I’d really just like to find time to have more weekends like this, where I get to spend three days or so hanging out with awesome, friendly, and passionate coffee people. All the free coffee was nice, but the conversations and connections were the best part.

    Discover:lever image via Astoria.

  12. Coffee Fest Day 2: Part 1

    Day two was a full, full day, so I’m splitting it in half. I didn’t get to take many pictures (express permission was required to shoot anything), but there will be a few here and there.

    Microlots Class

    I started my day with a class provided by the fine folks at Cafe Imports. The class, entitled Tasting and Understanding Microlots for Retailers, encompassed the history of microlot coffees (small quantities of coffee, either from a particular farm, or a mill/coop, which are more characterful than the commodity coffees and are essentially left unblended to be sold for higher prices). We covered most of the basics in a presentation, including how microlots are categorized and sold, the relevance and process of the Kenyan coffee market and the Cup of Excellence competition, as well as a few more quips about coffee purchasing in general. Then, the fun began. To hammer home some of the ideas that were just presented, as well as to give us an example of how different microlots from a given region can actually be, we cupped five different coffees - only one was a blended coop coffee, and all were excellent. It was tough to cup that early, for me, but cupping is never a competition to see who tastes the most notes, it’s just meant to familiarize yourself with a coffee, and typically decide which ones you’ll be purchasing. After about five minutes, I couldn’t tell the difference between many of the cups, but the dry aromas of the ground coffee were quite distinct. It was certainly a worthwhile class, and while I don’t actually buy bulk coffees or cup samples, it helps to understand the process and logic behind cupping itself.

    The cupping table after our class. Three bowls of one of the five samples we had.

    Latte Art Competition

    Day two of the latte art competition actually drew quite a crowd. I got out of my class about halfway into the comp, and saw about five heats or so before the end. Once again, the art was beautiful, and as I played along with the judges to pick winners, I was struggling at times to decide which was the better pour. Honestly, I was pretty glad I wasn’t taking part at all - my pitcher skills are nowhere near the level these guys have. Once it wrapped up, I caught Chris Deferio again, along with a few cafe owners (whose names I’ve regrettably forgotten!), and we chatted for a bit. Chris had to run off to prep for his latte art class, so I stayed and spoke with the other two, partly about the coffee beer experiment I’d like to partake in with my brother. Every time I bring up my thoughts on the recipe, people seem very intrigued, though many don’t agree with me that most coffee beers made today just plain suck. I’ll have to make sure I get a few bottles out to coffee people if it turns out well, so I can get their thoughts on the subject.

    After the judges picked a winner for each heat, the cups were moved to a central table for all to ogle.

    Coffee: The Musical

    The musical representatives had a booth at Coffee Fest, which was fairly quiet most of the time. I didn’t really stop in, as I don’t exactly live near Broadway. They did, however, offer a public performance just after the latte art competition (right before the show floor opened at noon), where two of their vocalists performed over the background music and vocal played on a boombox (or something). Interesting fact: one of the leading ladies in this musical, Jodi Katz, is a vocalist in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

    Coffee Fest attendees queuing up to enter the floor.

    The Show Floor

    Would you be surprised to hear that, in fact, the show floor was exactly the same as the previous day? I did have quite a different show experience, though. I started out by talking to the ladies at the teeth whitening booth (really?), who weren’t going to be whitening my chompers, but were super interested in hearing about coffee roasting. I suppose when you’re running a booth, you don’t necessarily get to go mingle, but I was really surprised that they hadn’t already heard about coffee roasting during the first day at frakkin’ Coffee Fest. Still, I told them about the process, from fruit to seed to roast, and had a nice time chatting. I definitely opened up to people a bit more this time, talking for the sake of talking, rather than hearing the sales pitches.

    I made sure to hit Visions Espresso for some more Kuma coffee (the stuff is awesome), and to chat with Cole again about all sorts of coffee nerd stuff. And then of course, I realized I may actually be interested in buying things from certain people, and inquired about case prices for cupping glasses. I could probably use a box or two for tastings and like…drinking glasses or something. We’ll see, but I know who to talk to if I decide to buy!

    Cole from Visions, brewing up some Kuma beans and convincing people to switch to Clever drippers.

    I also stopped back at PT’s coffee, who were some of the nicest people at the show. I could have stood and chatted there while sipping on espresso or brewed coffee for hours. They’re seriously great. I’d asked if they had any beans for sale, which they didn’t, but they quite generously offered to let me lighten their carry-ons if I came back to the booth on Sunday (i.e. free coffee for me at the end of the show). Fantastic people, fantastic coffee. I highly recommend them!

    New to me was the Astoria booth. I’d spotted their lever machine and sortof drooled over it a bit as I walked by, but they always seemed busy. I got a tip from the ZPM guys that Astoria was hosting an event Saturday night, so I should talk to them for the details. When I finally did make it over, I had an awesome time geeking out with the guys at the booth, one of which is a moderator at home-barista.com, by the name of Shadowfax. His actual name is Nick Lundgaard, and he’s a really friendly guy. We ended up chatting about our home setups (his kills mine by a long shot: a La Marzocco GS/3 and a Compak K10). We did talk a bit about the particular lever machine at the booth, the Gloria AL/1, and how it performs compared to some other machines. I pretty much decided right then and there, after pulling a few shots, that I want one. Yep.

    Stay tuned for Part 2.

  13. Coffee Fest NYC Day 1: Latte Art and Swag on Swag

    No photos in this post today, unfortunately. I didn’t bring my camera due to the ‘Fest rules, which say there’s no photography on the floor. Apparently that’s not even remotely enforced, so I’ll see what I can do tomorrow.

    I woke up a bit late today, having let myself sleep in after yesterday’s walkfest. When I finally got to (found, I should say) the Javits Center entrance, I was set for a long day of coffee and talking. I grabbed my badge holder and welcome package from the front desk, then hit the latte art competition stage, where the final few competitors of the day were pouring some rosettas and such. I caught the last four heats, which consist of two performers each, one drink each. The judges pick the winner of the two, who will proceed to the next round. I managed to catch John Letoto, whom I met yesterday, as he competed and won his round with a nicely formed nested heart. Words don’t really do these beverages justice, so I’ll try to snap some shots tomorrow.

    Since the show floor didn’t open until noon, and the latte art comp ended at about 10:30, I caught a bit of one class, about keeping your cafe relevant to customers, and sat in for most of a Barista Basics class (I cut out early, as it proved to be very elementary, things I’ve known for a while). The show floor was where all the magic was, though, so I dove right in just after noon.

    Highlights

    For starters, I managed to snag a carton of chai mix from The Chai Company, presumably for mentioning that I go to school with quite a few Indian international students, who often talk about chai from home. There was no catch, really, just a handout, which was cool.

    There were quite a few very tasty coffees being brewed by a variety of roasters and equipment dealers, and most notable to me were PT’s Southpaw espresso, which I had amid a great conversation about lever machines with the barista and a fellow attendee. The espresso had great body, a syrupy mouthfeel, and a slightly subdued fruity acidity. Apparently, Southpaw is a somewhat forgiving blend, meaning it can produce fairly good shots across a range of brewing parameters, and thus would be good for use in a lever machine like mine, which cannot reach the same dose weight as the more commercial machines. You don’t always see that in espresso blends, so I was glad to hear that.

    Birch Coffee is a company I hadn’t heard of before, but I stopped by to try their house blend. It was quite interesting, very savory. I remarked that it smelled a lot like tomato soup, or a rich vegetable broth. Some of the other attendees trying it agreed, and we decided that it was a coffee made for sipping along with lunch, something hearty to pair with a rustic sandwich or the like. Honestly, I think it was meant for grilled cheese sandwiches - not for dipping, but it would have paired well. It was a fairly unique blend, for certain.

    Kuma coffee was featured at the Visions Espresso booth. Visions is mainly an equipment dealer, but they certainly know how to brew a cup of coffee as well. I arrived and tried a cup of Kuma’s Kenya Gethumbwini, but it was a bit cool, and lacking aroma (it had been sitting out before I got there). Cole, the barista on duty, brewed up a fresh batch of the Kuma Panama Elida he had on hand, just after showing me how aromatic the whole beans were. It smelled like a bag full of dried strawberries, thick and sweet and rich with fruit flavor. The coffee itself was a bit cleaner, but just as sweet and berry-like. It finished quickly, but didn’t have some of the earthiness that lingers with many natural-processed coffees. I’m going to have to go back tomorrow for another sample, and I’ll probably be ordering a bag soon.

    Products

    So, one of my main priorities was to check out some of the soon-to-be-released, or newly-released products on display on the show floor. I already knew I’d be hitting the Rancilio booth to see the Xcelsius technology in the Classe 9 machine. Essentially what that is is per-group temperature control, with profiling built in. If that blows right over your head, don’t worry, it’s really just barista jargon, not something meant to be shoved in customers’ faces. What it means is that each brew group on the machine can be independently set to a temperature profile, with precise control over the starting and ending temperatures, and a fairly quick setting-in time. So if you bump your profile up a few degrees to respond to the coffee you’re using, it takes just a few ounces of water flushed through the group to get the temperature where it’s supposed to be. The system uses a heating element, digital controller, and lines for both hot and cool water, which all work together to make sure your profile is brewing as intended. It’s some pretty cool tech in theory, but I’d like to hear more about the results in practice, especially on maintenance schedules. The Rancilio reps were a bit bogged down with visitors, so I didn’t want to hit them with every question I had right then.

    Another cool machine is the Curtis G4 Gold Cup brewer. Now, I’m a big fan of pourover brewing by the cup, mainly for the human side of it. However, I know cafes don’t all have customers like me, so they look to devices to help that process along. There’s always the batch-brewer standbys, but for folks who have something like the Clover in mind, something that can produce a single cup with decent consistency, the G4 isn’t a bad option. The rep didn’t get much into adjusting profiles as the beans age, but it was clear that creating profiles to begin with isn’t difficult, it’s all touch screen controlled, and the results are quite repeatable. The machine is also fairly easy to maintain, uses standard cone filters, and can be cleaned thoroughly. The downside, well, was that the coffee they brewed to demonstrate was quite flat. They used good beans (Handsome and Intelligentsia), but the brewed product didn’t seem to be dialed in.

    I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the ZPM espresso machine, the Nocturn. It should be more interesting tomorrow when they have a power hookup for their work-in-progress prototype. The machine still isn’t fully finished, and they’re sourcing parts (actively, I might add, as they seemed to have made a connection for valves and fittings right there in front of me), but what they have is coming together and they’re happy to talk all about it.

    Swag

    And of course, no convention would be complete without the Stuff We All Get! Honestly though, there wasn’t a lot to take home today, as much of the freebie stuff is in beverage or food form. I did get a nice little shot glass that’s erroneously marked with a 1 oz. measurement (it’s totally two) actually definitely 1 ounce, that came with an entry to win a Nuova Simonelli Oscar (fingers crossed, folks!). I also got the chai mix, of course, a free copy of Roast magazine (probably gonna subscribe to that one!), and well, that’s about it. Sure, there was more to be had, but how many tote bags do you really need?

    More tomorrow, and it’ll probably be a bit more interesting, with photos and such.

  14. Coffee Fest NYC Day 0: The Cafe Crawl

    Some of you may have noticed that there’s no Counter Talk availability this week; that’ll be because I’m in New York for the weekend. I’m here for Coffee Fest, a trade event based around the coffee business, where some new products make their debut, people show their wares, and of course, latte artists compete for a big ol’ pot of money! My interests are mainly in the show floor, seeing what sort of products are out there - from espresso machines, to green beans, and maybe a few snacks to nibble on. I’m not a cafe owner, so I won’t be seriously looking for new things to stock my shelves, but there will be a lot to see and learn regardless.

    But that all starts tomorrow. Today, I had other things in mind. New York happens to be a rather up and coming coffee town. It’s not as dense with quality as some other cities, like Portland or Seattle, but there are gems distributed throughout a few of the boroughs. Since Chris Deferio, a barista at my local Syracuse haunt, Cafe Kubal, is in town to judge the latte art comp, we had planned to meet up for a bit of a cafe crawl. Joining us were Sam Lewontin, Ryan Soeder, and John Letoto, of Everyman Espresso, Counter Culture, and Quills coffee respectively. We all got in at different times, and one or two of us got lost a bit, so while we had plans to pursue an organized cafe crawl, it was a bit more disjointed. Regardless, here’s what we hit:

    Abraço

    That little c glyph there? That means it’s pronounced like an s - just so you know.

    The place was a bit of a hole in the wall on 7th St and 1st Ave, but man was there good coffee to be had. I was the only one to make it in, and I didn’t hesitate to load up on espresso - Counter Culture’s Rustico blend. My cortado was a lovely short drink tasting of strawberries, cream, and a bit of burnt sugar. The straight shot I got was more of that fruit, with a bit more intense bass quality to it, a bit more bitter but still tasty. The staff were friendly, the spot itself was obviously a neighborhood go-to, as the locals were coming in to idly chat and sip. After a bit of confusion on the phone, Chris and I eventually settled on meeting elsewhere (he got lost, unfortunately, so he wasn’t going to make it to Abraço before they closed). So, on to Think Coffee!

    Third Rail

    Well, Chris went to Think, anyway. I just met him outside, where he was lamenting over the espresso he was just served. We opted to move on to Third Rail, another quality shop on Sullivan St. near W 3rd St. We conversed with Jordan Barber, who was on bar, and recently took first at the Northeast Regional Brewer’s Cup, and second at the Northeast Regional Barista Championship. He served up some shots of Counter Culture’s Apollo, and we hung out while waiting for the others to arrive. Not too much later, Sam and Ryan arrived, followed briefly by John, and after a little bit of reminiscing (not on my part, I’d just met these guys), we departed for more coffee! Or so we thought.

    Gasoline Alley and Bowery

    We hoofed it to both cafes, and were disappointed by closed doors both times. A shame, as I could sense the excitement in the group over visiting each. I’ll see if I can hit on or the other this weekend. So, having walked a mile or so, we opted instead for food - and hit Village Yokocho, a Japanese restaurant where “you’ll get tons of food for cheap!” It certainly lived up to that claim, as I managed to stuff myself on takoyaki (octopus balls) and a tofu veggie soup, for just about $18. That, as it turns out, is a cheap dinner in NYC. I walked to my friends’ apartment afterward, and plain crashed from having such a long day. I get the feeling my legs won’t recover for a week or so, from being cramped in a bus then forced to walk more than a few miles. Looking forward to being on my feet all day during Coffee Fest though!

  15. Counter Talk: David Rosen

    My nerves were just settling down when I met with David Rosen, a fellow iSchool graduate student. I’d just given a presentation for the 140Challenge, wherein I gave my proposed 140cuse talk in front of a small audience, to compete for a chance to win a speaking spot at 140conf NYC this summer (yeah, that’s a lotta 140). There are just five competitors, each given their own day to speak, and I had the, er… pleasure of going first. I’m not the strongest public speaker, I don’t think, and I’d had limited time for rehearsal due to coursework getting in the way. Needless to say, by the time I met with David, I was glad it was all over, and ready to move on to casual conversation - coincidentally of a rather similar topic.

    I’ve known David for a few months, as he’s in my major, and thus some of my classes. He’s also part of the NEXIS crew, and one of the organizers of the upcoming, and first ever, 140cuse conference. I also know David to be a bit of a Starbucks fanboy, so I was eager to pull his attention away from the Green Siren for a chat.

    The Brew

    I’d brought my Chemex along, with some of Stumptown’s Ethiopia Yukro for the brew. I’d actually tried to roast something for this meeting, a Costa Rican bean that my older brother’s longtime friend Ben courteously brought back with him from said country. Unfortunately, being the first roast, things rather predictably went wrong, resulting in a roast that’s what we refer to as “baked.” The taste of a fresh but baked roast is roughly equivalent to that pot of office coffee that’s sat on the warmer for about 4 hours. Not. Good. Luckily, Yukro is a splendid backup bean, with ample sweetness and a well-balanced acidity.

    I actually brewed for everybody present in NEXIS this time, so don’t be surprised if that’s where the CuseBarista Fan Club gets formed…

    The Exchange

    David and I were actually both at a loss as to what to talk about at first. I usually come to these with some questions in mind, in case I need to initiate some discussion, but again, I’d been a bit preoccupied. We started by meandering through stories of his experience abroad, in London and Italy, which essentially made me infinitely jealous. Europe is full of a diverse coffee culture, and I’ve got quite a few cities and countries in a mental list of places to visit for no other reason than coffee. His experiences are obviously meaningful to him, from the lifestyle aspects to the history and food, as well as the cheap travel (hey U.S., let’s work on that one, yeah?). Europe is also where he met his current (American) girlfriend, who teaches in Chicago - another coffee town, I might add.

    The conversation ended up in very interesting place, though, when we began discussing his role as a 140cuse planner. David found his role here through an existing interest in social media, starting back when he attended SXSW last year. From there, he cultivated connections with iSchool staff, and managed to get his trip to 140conf NYC sponsored by the school. There, he got to meet the conference’s founder, Jeff Pulver, and where an interesting idea got formulated. 140conf has some history in collaboration with educational institutions, but the idea of Syracuse University hosting its own offshoot was a bit fresher. Forgetting the minutiae of initiating and planning this sort of thing, David eventually took up a Graduate Assistantship at the iSchool, where planning the conference became his essential duty. And make no mistake, that’s not an easy job.

    David kicks back in NEXIS, enjoying a cup of distinctly not-Starbucks coffee.

    There are other members of the team, but David’s description of his experiences gave me the impression that his duties are distributed quite far. He’s helped the project the whole way, from setting up a web presence, to promotion, securing speakers and sponsors, reserving space on campus, booking transportation, and so on. Conferences, it turns out, are full of little details that are easy to overlook. I related to him the struggles of Mojang, the folks behind the cult indie game Minecraft, as they put on their own first convention this past year. The first is always one of the most difficult, because there is so little experience to learn from or build on.

    The Finish

    In the few short months building up to 140cuse, you can bet David will be kept busy, and I’m hoping his work will pay off. From what I know, I can tell it’s shaping up to be a really unique event, something that will be remembered at Syracuse, and looked forward to each year. I’m excited to meet Jeff Pulver soon, when he comes to campus to attend Isaac Budmen’s 140challenge talk. If you’re in the area in April, I highly recommend attending 140cuse; it’s going to be a fantastic time and well worth the price of admission. Also, free coffee from me!

    Edit: Due to health code stuff, I won’t be brewing coffee. However, all of the 140challenge competitors will be taking the stage to give their talks! Sometime around noon, I believe.